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UAMS TRI Director Laura James, M.D., Named Inaugural Arkansas Research Alliance Fellow

Dec. 3, 2014 | The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ (UAMS) Laura James, M.D., was announced today as an inaugural fellow of the Arkansas Research Alliance (ARA) during a news conference at the state Capitol.

The ARA Fellows program recognizes distinguished university research leaders who are already working in the state. ARA Fellows are nominated by their chancellor and receive a $75,000 grant paid over three years. James is a pediatrician, researcher and director of the UAMS Translational Research Institute.

“Dr. James is an outstanding clinician-scientist who has an exceptionally strong track record of conducting research that spans the translational spectrum from basic to clinical in the area of acetaminophen toxicity,” said UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D. “She is a member of a vanishing breed of academicians— ‘triple-threat’ clinician-scientists who maintain excellence in the delivery of clinical care, the conduct of research, and the transfer of knowledge to the next generation of clinicians and researchers.”

James was among five inaugural ARA Fellows welcomed by Gov. Mike Beebe on Wednesday.

“Research is paramount to Arkansas’ future in the knowledge-driven economy of the 21st century,” Beebe said. “As we strive to create opportunities for high-paying, technology-based jobs, partners like ARA are critical and help our state concentrate our energy and resources on the most effective paths to further success and prosperity.”

Rahn noted that among James’ 96 peer reviewed publications are papers that range from describing cellular and molecular mechanisms of acetaminophen toxicity in liver cells to evaluation of acetaminophen-associated hepatic injury in children. He credited her ability to assemble a collaborative team of investigators focused on understanding an important clinical problem.

James_Rahn podium-400Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D., who nominated Laura James, M.D. (center), for the ARA Fellow award, provided an overview of her research achievements and congratulated her for becoming UAMS’ first ARA Fellow.
Her team’s work has led to the development of a new diagnostic test for measuring a biomarker of liver injury secondary to acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is the most common drug used around the world for the treatment of pain and fever. It is also a very common cause of acute liver injury in the United States and Western Europe. The present diagnostic approaches used by physicians to identify acetaminophen as the culprit of liver injury are inadequate and fail to detect many of the cases. Because acetaminophen is found in hundreds of over-the-counter pain killers, patients may be unaware of the amount of acetaminophen they have received. James and colleagues founded Acetaminophen Toxicity Diagnostics, LLC in 2006. The company has the potential to grow significantly once the diagnostic test obtains regulatory approval.

As an entrepreneur, James and her research team at Arkansas Children’s Research Institute (ACRI) have developed a rapid and sensitive test for detecting acetaminophen protein adducts in blood. Working with UAMS BioVentures, she formed a start-up company, Acetaminophen Toxicity Diagnostics, LLC, to develop and market the diagnostic kit.

“ARA is proud of the new ARA Fellows program because it underscores our mission to stimulate economic opportunities through university innovation and collaboration,” said Jerry Adams, ARA president and CEO. “By identifying and investing in researchers currently working in the state, we are maximizing opportunities for commercialization and economic impact.”

The ARA Fellows program is a companion to the well-established ARA Scholars program, which recruits research talent to Arkansas. UAMS has three ARA Scholars: Peter Crooks, Ph.D., Gareth Morgan, M.D., and Daohong Zhou, M.D.

In addition to UAMS, the ARA Fellows represent Arkansas’ other research universities: Arkansas State University (ASU), University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (UAF), University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR), and University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB).

ARA Fellows _Chancellors-400In the photo taken following Wednesday’s announcement of the ARA Fellows program are (l-r) UAPB Chancellor Laurence Alexander, ARA Fellow Trace Peterson, ARA Fellow Laura James, UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn, ARA Fellow Alexandru Biris, UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson, ARA Fellow Alan Mantooth, Gov. Mike Beebe, UA Chancellor David Gearhart, ARA Fellow Argelia Lorence and ASU Chancellor Tim Hudson.
James received her medical degree from the University of South Carolina and residency training in pediatrics at UAMS and Arkansas Children’s Hospital. She also completed fellowship training in pediatric emergency medicine at the University of Alabama, Birmingham and additional fellowship training in pediatric clinical pharmacology/toxicology at UAMS and Arkansas Children’s Hospital. In 1996, she joined UAMS as assistant professor in pediatrics. Today, she is a professor of pediatrics and chief of the Section of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in the Department of Pediatrics. Earlier this year she was named director of the Translational Research Institute.

Other inaugural ARA Fellows are:

Alexandru Biris, Ph.D., UALR; Director and Chief Scientist, Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences (CINS); explores the science of nanostructures that can be used to alter properties of substances at the atomic level.
Argelia Lorence, Ph.D., ASU; Co-Lead Plant Imaging Consortium (PIC); leads research for the potential development of crop plants with enhanced nutritional content, better growth, and improved tolerance to multiple environmental stresses.
Alan Mantooth, Ph.D., P.E., FIEEE, UAF; Executive Director, National Center for Reliable Electric Power Transmission; Executive Director, National Science Foundation Center for Grid-connected Advanced Power Electronic Systems; 21st Century Endowed Chair, Mixed-signal IC Design and CAD; continues to build upon his internationally recognized electronics research program; the team’s designs have flown on the International Space Station; latest achievements include developing an electronic charger for Toyota’s new plug-in electric vehicles.
Trace Peterson, Ph.D., D.V.M., UAPB; Assistant Professor, Regulatory Science Center of Excellence; examines transgenic humanized zebrafish used to study human cancers and kidney diseases; researching drug delivery systems and patentable vaccine technology for previously non-preventable food fish diseases, which will enhance worldwide food security.
ARA is a 501(c)(3) organization governed by a board of trustees comprised of chancellors from Arkansas research universities and CEOs from across the state. ARA evolved out of the visioning developed in a 2007 strategic plan developed by Accelerate Arkansas. In 2007, the Arkansas legislature approved the appropriation of start-up operational funding from the state’s general improvement fund. Funding was authorized through the Arkansas Science and Technology Authority. Operating as a public-private partnership, ARA is committed to strengthening the economic competitiveness of Arkansas by maximizing university-based research and innovation in designated strategic focus areas. To learn more, visit www.aralliance.org.

UAMS, TRI Honor Community Groups for Research Partnerships

Twenty-four groups from across Arkansas were honored Dec. 4 at the 2nd Annual Community Partners Celebration for their work in support of research at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).

Sponsored by the UAMS Translational Research Institute, the annual celebration dinner included a welcome from Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D., and remarks by Karen Yeary, Ph.D., a researcher in the UAMS Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health, and the Rev. Jerome Turner, director of special projects for the Boys, Girls, Adults Development Center in Marvell, and pastor of the Mt. Everett and New Hope Baptist Churches in rural Phillips County.

“Our search for solutions to improve Arkansas’ health status isn’t confined to a laboratory on our campus,” Rahn said. “We have about 50 researchers conducting community-based research, and their success depends on a highly collaborative relationship with communities across the state.”

The Translational Research Institute’s mission includes helping UAMS researchers establish and sustain community partnerships that will help UAMS better address the state’s many health issues, particularly where health disparities exist in communities at high risk for poor health outcomes.

Of the nearly 100 community partners attending the Dec. 4 event were members of the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute Community Advisory Board are (l-r): Melva Trask, Mary Olson, Tiffany Haynes, Ph.D., and Edlund Marshall.Of the nearly 100 community partners attending the Dec. 4 event were members of the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute Community Advisory Board are (l-r): Melva Trask, Mary Olson, Tiffany Haynes, Ph.D., and Edlund Marshall.
For example, the institute has supported UAMS research partnerships with the Tri County Rural Health Network based in Helena to study the role of “community connectors” who help connect the elderly and disabled to health services in the Delta. College of Public Health researchers found that $2.6 million in Medicaid savings could be achieved by keeping older adults out of long-term care facilities by connecting them with home health care services. That study has been expanded to 15 counties with support from the National Institutes of Health.

Laura James, M.D., director of the Translational Research Institute, noted that because the burden of poor health is not evenly distributed across the state, UAMS must work closely with communities to design new ways of addressing entrenched health issues such as chronic diseases related to poor lifestyle choices.

“Our community partners are a driving force behind our research, even guiding the research questions that we pursue,” James said. “UAMS is among the leaders of this relatively new approach to research, and we are grateful to have such involved communities.”

Another example of UAMS-community partnership is that of Yeary and Turner, who created the Faith Task Force, a coalition of pastors from African-American churches in the Delta, local government officials, community-based organizations, and UAMS to address obesity and other health issues that lead to chronic diseases. Established nearly 10 years ago, the Faith Task Force is collaborating on a study that involves 450 participants from the Arkansas Delta to address obesity, and the study of a depression intervention that will enroll 72 participants across two counties.

The Rev. Jerome Turner and Karen Yeary, Ph.D., a UAMS researcher, gave the keynote address at the UAMS Translational Research Institute Community Partner Celebration. The Rev. Jerome Turner and Karen Yeary, Ph.D., a UAMS researcher, gave the keynote address at the UAMS Translational Research Institute Community Partner Celebration.
“The Faith Task Force has been an equal partner in all aspects of the research, including issue identification, study design, intervention development, evaluation development, intervention implementation, and dissemination of research results,” Yeary said.

The groups honored Thursday were:

Community Organizations

Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese
Arkansas Disability Coalition/Arkansas Family-2-Family Health Information Center
Arkansas Epilepsy Association
Boys, Girls, Adults Community Development Center
CARE Coalition
East Arkansas Enterprise Community Inc.
Feed Communities
Gaps in Services to the Marshallese Taskforce
Greater Macedonia Baptist Church
Holman Community Development Center
Mid Delta Community Consortium
Mississippi County Economic Opportunity Commission Inc.
Neighbors that Love
Promise Neighborhood Advisory Board
Tri County Rural Health Network

Representatives of the Translational Research Institute attending the event included (l-r), Cornelia Beck, Ph.D., R.N., associate director, Camille Hart, program manager of the Community Engagement Program, and Kate Stewart, M.D., director of the Community Engagement Program.Representatives of the Translational Research Institute attending the event included (l-r), Cornelia Beck, Ph.D., R.N., associate director, Camille Hart, program manager of the Community Engagement Program, and Kate Stewart, M.D., director of the Community Engagement Program.
Community Advisory Boards (CABs)

12th Street Health and Wellness Center CAB
Arkansas Center for Health Disparities Community Engagement Core CAB
Community Advisory Committee to the Texarkana Regional Center on Aging
Cord Blood Bank of Arkansas Advisory Board
Faith Task Force
Jefferson County Faith Task Force
Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) CAB
Prevention Research Center CAB
Translational Research Institute CAB
The UAMS Translational Research Institute’s mission is to help accelerate research that will improve the health and health care of people in Arkansas and across the country. TRI is one of 62 recipients of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA).

TRI KL2 Alum Publishes in Health Affairs, Speaks at National Press Club

Special needs children with medical complexity, who see multiple specialists for more than one chronic condition, are more likely to have a health care need go unmet, according to a paper by Dennis Kuo, M.D., an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and the Arkansas Children’s Research Institute (ACRI), published this month in the prestigious, peer-reviewed journal Health Affairs.

“Among the children with medical complexity, unmet need was not associated with primary language, income level, or having Medicaid,” wrote Kuo and second author Anthony Goudie, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at UAMS. “We concluded that medical complexity itself can be a primary determinant of unmet needs.”

Kuo’s and Goudie’s research has been supported by the UAMS Translational Research Institute as a KL2 Mentored Career Development Award recipients, which provided each with two years of salary support, research funding and training.

The paper, entitled Inequities in Health Care Needs for Children with Medical Complexity, was presented Monday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. It appears in Health Affairs’ December issue focusing on children’s health.

Based on a secondary analysis of data from the 2005–06 and 2009–10 National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs, the inequities the paper examined were those based on race or ethnicity, primary language in the household, insurance type and poverty status. The paper compares inequities of children with special needs to those of children with special needs who also have medical complexity. The results indicate children with medical complexity are more than twice as likely to have at least one unmet need compared to children with special needs without medical complexity.

An abstract of the paper can be viewed online. Copies of the entire study are available to members of the media upon request.

Kuo is also a co-author of the paper Children with Medical Complexity and Medicaid: Spending and Cost Savings, which was also accepted by Health Affairs and is also being presented at the National Press Club. Its primary author is Jay Berry, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Kuo is the second TRI KL2 graduate to be invited to speak at the National Press Club by Health Affairs. In 2011, Holly Felix, Ph.D., M.P.A., presented her findings at the Washington, D.C., venue that community health workers could achieve significant Medicaid savings by connecting the elderly and disabled adults in the Delta to community-based health services, enabling them to remain in their homes rather than moving to long-term care institutions. The NIH is funding an expansion of her earlier study, which was conducted in three counties calculated savings of $2.6 million over three years in those counties.

TRI, COPH Students Team Up to Conduct Survey of Community Health Needs

In August, the Translational Research Institute (TRI) at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) joined a national collaborative effort which will help the TRI assess and better understand to the health needs of individuals living in Central Arkansas, as well as their interest in taking part in research.

The TRI is one of seven institutions nationally taking part in the collaboration, known as the Sentinel Network for Community-Based Participatory Research. The goal is to determine attitudes in the community about research, any past experiences with research studies, and what would motivate community members to participate in a research study. In an effort to collect this information, the TRI is using the Sentinel Network Survey.

The Sentinel Network Survey has been utilized by six other universities around the country. These institutions collaborated to establish a sustainable network that encourages ongoing, real-time assessments of top health and community needs, concerns and research participation.

The project is being implemented under the TRI’s Community Engagement Component, which is directed by Kate Stewart, M.D., M.P.H., who also leads the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health’s Office of Community-Based Participatory Research. The goal is to collect at least 1,000 surveys by the end of the fall semester. Students at the College of Public Health were invited to administer the survey at sites in Little Rock.

Before being deployed to their sites, the student volunteers participated in a four-hour training preparing them for their role. The training included the history and context of the community in which they would be serving, interviewing basics and cultural awareness. As part of their training, students also complete UAMS’ HIPAA training, as well as the human subjects protection training that is required of researchers and research staff at UAMS and other academic institutions.

In September, 14 student volunteers began administering the survey. Each week, they go in pairs to predetermined sites in the community, where they use the one-page survey to collect data from community members; it takes less than five minutes to complete. No personal information is being collected from anyone completing the survey, so their responses are anonymous.

MPH student Sharice Loftin says the experience has built her confidence and skills, especially “how to approach people to get them to fill out the data, because how you approach them really plays a role in whether they are going to do it or not.”

More than that, the connection with people out in the community has made public health and what she is learning in the classroom much more meaningful.

“I really, really love this program, because a lot of time you see what the need is in the community, but when you actually get that dialogue between community members and learn the history of the community itself, I feel like that approach to learning is very beneficial and really hits home more versus just reading it in black and white,” Loftin said.

Data collection is taking place in and around the 12th Street Corridor in Little Rock. Among the sites participating in the program are Harmony Health Clinic, Shepherd’s Hope Neighborhood Health Center, the UAMS 12th Street Health and Wellness Center, and the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library & Learning Center. In addition to weekly volunteer opportunities, students will administer surveys at local community fairs and events.

The plan for future semesters is to involve student volunteers from the other colleges at UAMS and to have the activity qualify as a project of the Inter-professional Education Program.

For more information about the Sentinel Network, contact Program Coordinator Nicki Spencer at 501-526-6629 or via email at ndspencder@uams.edu.

This story was adapted from a version that first appeared in COPH News, a publication of the UAMS Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health.

TRI Helping UAMS Researchers Obtain Credentials for VHA Data

The Translational Research Institute (TRI) has established a mechanism that will help UAMS investigators obtain the credentials necessary to use Veterans Health Administration (VHA) data repositories in their research. The VHA is the United States’ largest integrated health care system with more than 1,700 sites of care, serving 8.76 million veterans each year. This integrated health network allows investigators to explore a wide range of research questions. TRI is providing funding for administrative and programmer support to assist with credentialing and preliminary technical support. To learn more, contact TRIservices@uams.edu.

TRI Receives Grant to Expand UAMS Clinical Research Training

The Translational Research Institute (TRI) will expand clinical research training with support from a $75,000 supplemental award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS).

TRI will use the funding over the next six months to support the clinical research specialist program and expand curriculum and online training opportunities. A primary goal of NCATS is to ensure that all study personnel are equipped with the necessary and fundamental competencies to execute the highest quality clinical studies. The NCATS award is also expected to help streamline and standardize training in Good Clinical Practice across the 62 Clinical and Translational Sciences Award (CTSA) consortium sites.

Funding Opportunities

This list of funding opportunities was updated Oct. 10 and includes a tab with archived funding opportunities that remain open.

Telehealth Pilot Awarded to UAMS, UAF Collaborators

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Translational Research Institute (TRI) and the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (UAF) have awarded $20,000 for a telehealth pilot research project led by Sarah Rhoads Kinder, Ph.D., D.N.P., an assistant professor in the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Her project is titled, “Postpartum Management of the Pregnancy Complicated by Preeclampsia: A Pilot Study Using Health Monitoring at Home.” The one-year award includes an additional $5,000 from UAF because Kinder is collaborating with Christina Serrano, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Information Systems. The pilot was chosen from three telehealth pilot applications.

TRI Removing Step in IRB Protocol Submission Process

Research protocols submitted through CLARA are no longer receiving an automatic content review prior to the protocols’ arrival at the UAMS Institutional Review Board (IRB) office. On Oct. 13, the UAMS Translational Research Services Center (TRSC) began routing all submissions not requiring budget/coverage analysis directly to the IRB, where they will receive their first content review. The practice traditionally has involved an automatic pre-IRB review by the Research Support Center (now part of the TRSC). To avoid redundancy due to the IRB office having its own pre-IRB review process, this TRSC service is now being provided only at the request of researchers. Investigators who would like assistance with protocol development and IRB submission may request services at TRIservices@uams.edu.

Analytics Tools Help TRI Size Up UAMS’ Research Past, Future

Jiang Bian, Ph.D., found that TRI has had a positive impact on research at UAMS.

A recent analysis found that TRI has played an important and effective role in promoting collaborative research at UAMS.

Led by Jiang Bian, Ph.D., the social network analysis looked at researcher collaborations based on grant data from 2006 to 2012. UAMS received its Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) in 2009.

Bian’s work has led to new informatics tools for measuring the efficiency of UAMS’ research environment, whether it is improving, and whether external factors are playing a role. The analysis was published in the February 2014 Journal of Biomedical Informatics.

“We found that the CTSA and the establishment of TRI has had a positive impact,” said Bian, a researcher in the Department of Biomedical Informatics whose analysis was supported by TRI. “Prior to the TRI, there were far fewer collaborations and smaller, more isolated groups of researchers.”

Prediction Model
An intriguing element to his work is a statistical model showing which researchers should collaborate. The model was developed using 80 percent of the researcher population and then verified by applying it to the other 20 percent.

“Being able to predict is pretty exciting,” Bian said. “It helps people understand what sort of collaboration environment we have and whether the things we’re doing are enriching the environment for collaboration.”

Bian said TRI will reach out to researchers who are not collaborating but who should be based on the prediction model. “We’ll share our results with them so that they’re aware of the opportunity.”

In addition, Bian is developing visual analytics for TRI. The visualization tool, based on collaborations found in grant data, is designed to help any audience understand the nature of research networks and how they may evolve over time. The tool can track individual UAMS researchers as well as groups of researchers over time.

View Bian’s poster presentation: Interactive visualization for understanding and analyzing biomedical research collaboration networks.